The Expendable: Jared Sullinger

6 mins read

At the time this article goes live there will be 55 hours until the trade deadline.  I love this time of year, as it feels like anything can happen.  The Raptors have already made a big move in acquiring Serge Ibaka, and DeMarcus Cousins was literally traded during the All Star Game for a guy who punched him in the nuts just a few days earlier.

The NBA, where amazing truly does happen.

In all likelihood the Raptors are most likely done trading for the season.  This prediction is not due to a lack of effort on Masai Ujiri’s part, but due to the simple fact that no trade is easier to pull off that a trade.

Inertia is easier than movement.

With that said though, why not spend the next 55 hours with all the blind speculation that the NBA trade deadline should carry?

By trading Terrence Ross and the lower of their 2017 first round picks, the Raptors’ front office effectively sent out their likeliest trade assets in one deal.  If you any trade rumor this season that involved the Raptors, Ross and the 2017 picks were consistently mentioned.

But Toronto is still left with a wealth of prospects and picks that could dig up interest in their search for a wing.  They’ve got young players like Delon Wright, Fred VanVleett, Pascal Siakam, Lucas Noguiera, and Jakob Poeltl, all of their own picks moving forward, and a large(-ish) expiring contract in Jared Sullinger.

The question then becomes whether it is worth it?  Should Toronto give up depth and youth to have the luxury of an additional wing?  After all, the Raptors likely have the following 10 man rotation:

PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph

SG: DeMar DeRozan, Delon Wright

SF: DeMarre Carroll, Norman Powell

PF: Serge Ibaka, Patrick Patterson

C: Jonas Valanciunas, Lucas Noguiera

Delon is clearly the 10th man and his minutes will likely be spotty (He’s the new Norm.  His minutes will fluctuate from game to game despite showing promise, and it will drive me absolutely crazy), but with Cory and Norm each being able to see minutes at SG the Raptors basically have three options at every position and can show a wide variety of different looks.

The depth chart shows that an extra wing would more of a luxury than a necessity.  Add in free agency for Lowry, Ibaka, and Patterson this summer and the Raptors’ would likely need an expiring contract to upgrade their wing rotation in a trade.  I’m not comfortable giving up a valuable draft pick (any of our first round picks moving forward) or one of the youth squad at the end of the bench (Fred VanVleet is my one possible exception, but even then I would likely hesitate considering roster uncertainty moving forward) for what would amount to a player destined for limited minutes.

While I think a trade seems unlikely, that’s not to say the Raptors will finish the season as presently constructed.  With a full roster the Raptors can’t just sign a player outright, but the acquisition of Ibaka provides depth in the front court that makes Sullinger all the more expendable.

Although he was Toronto’s big free agent signing in 2016, a broken foot has sidetracked his entire season to date.  While he was expected to be their opening night starting power forward, Sullinger has seen almost as many minutes with the 905 (55 minutes) as he has with the Raptors (118 minutes) this season.

With Ibaka providing Toronto with a new starting power forward, and the flexibility to move him to centre as needed, Sullinger becomes completely expendable.  If the Raptors don’t find a way to use his salary in a trade, buying out Sullinger to open a roster spot could be the likeliest outcome.

Toronto would then be in position to try and sign any of the bought out wings that are sure to come on the market, a player currently playing internationally who is ready to make the move back to the NBA (Did you hear Jimmer recently scored 73 points in China?), or to grab a proven D-League G-League player for added depth (Hi, Axel!).

While Sullinger likely doesn’t hold any trade value around the league, he is likely still the key for the Raptors as they look to re-balance their roster after the Ibaka trade.

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